Published on
The Guardian/UK

Climate Change is Killing Our People

UN leaders should know: climate change is destroying my village in Uganda – flooding our homes and ruining our crops

Constance Okollet

There are no seasons any more in eastern Uganda. Before, we had two harvests every year, but now there's no pattern. Floods like we've never seen came and swept up everything. It rained and rained until all the land was soaked and our houses were submerged in the water. This forced us to move to higher ground, where we sought refuge. By the time we came back home, all the houses had collapsed, our granaries were destroyed and food was washed away. The remaining crops were rotten, and our food was no more.

As the ground in the village remained flooded, there were a lot of mosquitoes around, and five of my family members became ill with malaria. Because there was no clean water to drink, some people got cholera and diarrhoea. Many of the people in my village died. Children didn't go to school since they were too weakened by disease and their parents had no money for school fees.

Our farms were ruined, so we didn't have food until the government came to help us. This was so humiliating for us, because we had never depended on aid to survive.

This year, when we managed to get seeds to plant for our own food, we were struck by a drought like we had never seen before. It was so hot, all of the crops dried up and the wells where we used to collect water also became dry. There was no water in the boreholes, and so the cycle of hunger and thirst returned, but this time caused by the excessive heat.

We didn't understand why this had happened. We wondered what we had done to make God so angry. But we now know it's climate change. The cycle continues, and it hasn't gotten much better, as we have had more droughts and more floods. It's very hard for us to grow food, and some mornings, I go to my field only to find that someone has stolen the potatoes. Although it makes me angry, I know that if my neighbours didn't steal the potatoes, they wouldn't have anything to eat.

When I heard that leaders of the world were meeting at the UN in New York to talk about fighting climate change, I wished that there was a way I could tell them what my community has gone through. I wanted to make them understand that we are getting poorer and poorer because of climate change, and we are dying. I wanted to be there to tell them our story.

With Oxfam's help, I am have joined a number of women like me from different corners of the world in New York to speak my mind.

I ask the leaders of the rich countries to take action to reduce their carbon emissions so that we can look forward to rains to plant our crops without having to face floods that wash them away. And I ask them to help my community fight the climate change that destroys our houses, increases diseases and stops our children from attending schools. That's all I am asking for on behalf of my fellow villagers.

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Constance Okollet is farmer from the Tororo district in eastern Uganda. A mother of seven, she is also a community activist and chairperson of the Osukura United Women Network.

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